Israel is in the midst of an extensive vaccination campaign, and is beginning to see a drop in COVID infections and severe cases. Israel exited its third nationwide lockdown, but inbound and outbound flights remain suspended except for special cases. So far, 5,473 Israelis have died of the virus.
Meanwhile, Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip received 1,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, though it may take at least a few more months for their campaigns to reach enough members of the population. 1,601 people have died so far in the West Bank, while 538 have died in Gaza.
8:40 P.M. Health Ministry eases criteria for schools to reopen nationwide
The Health Ministry announced easing of the criteria for reopening schools on Wednesday, and classes are scheduled to restart in many cities as of Sunday. In addition to cities with very low coronavirus rates – schools can reopen in cities with moderately low levels of coronavirus infection, and where at least 70 percent of residents over 50 have been vaccinated.
The ministry has also allowed schools to hold activities for up to 20 students oudoors, instead of the previous limit of nine, including staff – even in communities with high infection rates. (Ido Efrati, Shira Kadari-Ovadia)
6:46 P.M. Dr. Fauci hails Israel's efficient vaccine rollout, says it shows that U.S. citizens must get vaccinated
Dr. Anthony Fauci highlighted the gaps in Israel and the United States' vaccine distributions, along with the subsequent data emerging from Israel, as proof of the need for the population to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
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"It is noteworthy that when you look at the amount of vaccinations, per 100 people, namely, how many vaccinations were given per 100 people, Israel is way up there with 78 doses per 100 people, compared to the United States, which is 16.7 doses per 100 people," Fauci said during a press briefing.
"So we have been hearing and seeing in the press that Israel has a remarkable diminution in cases associated with the efficiency of their vaccine. The reason I bring this out to you is that it is another example of the scientific data, starting to point to the fact that vaccine is important not only for the health of the individual to protect them against infection and disease, but it also has very important implications from a public health standpoint for interfering and diminishing the dynamics of the outbreak," he added.
Fauci stressed that the bottom line message based on the Israeli data is that "when it is your turn to get vaccinated comes up, get vaccinated, it's not only good for you and your family and your community, it will have a very important impact on the dynamics of the outbreak in our country." (Ben Samuels, Washington D.C.)
5:00 P.M. Pfizer vaccine 95 percent effective, Israeli HMO reports, chances of fully vaccinated person of contracting virus are one in 1,000
Data released by Israeli health maintenance organization Maccabi revealed that out of 620,000 who received their second COVID vaccine, only 608 contracted the virus.
Most of the fully vaccinated COVID patients, Maccabi said, suffered from light symptoms only, or were asymptomatic. Of the 608, 21 were hospitalized, and of those, seven had severe symptoms, three displayed moderate symptoms, and 11 had light symptoms.
Maccabi reported that so far more than a million of its members received the first shot of the vaccine, and over 720,000 are fully vaccinated. (Ido Efrati)
3:51 P.M. First COVID vaccine site opens at a bar
Israel is opening its first COVID vaccination site at a bar in Tel Aviv. The City of Tel Aviv is partnering with the Restaurants and Bars Union, the Restaurants Stronger Together organization, and an anti-lockdown movement to promote the vaccine to youth.
The station opens Thursday near the Jenia bar in Dizengoff Square, Ben Ami Street 13, from 6:00 P.M. until 12:00 A.M. No appointment is necessary and anyone with recognized health insurance can be vaccinated for free. This is intended only for those who have not yet received their first vaccine dose.
One can receive a voucher for a free drink at the bar by presenting the vaccination certificate and a DigiTel Resident Card, a digital card for Tel Aviv residents. (Bar Peleg)
12:15 P.M. 1,265 in Tel Aviv, 120 in Bnei Brak: weekend fines over lockdown reveal unequal enforcement
Police statistics have revealed a significant disparity in the enforcement of coronavirus regulations over the weekends of the third lockdown, with more lenient measures applying to the ultra-Orthodox community.
The data, acquired by the NGO 'Hatzlacha' through a freedom of information request, compared several localities in Israel. It found that, for example, 1,265 fines were handed out over the weekends (which also span Shabbat) of the third lockdown in north Tel Aviv, in contrast to just 120 in Bnei Brak, which had a far higher rate of infection.
In the ultra-Orthodox West Bank settlement of Modi'in Ilit, there were 2.16 fines for every 10,000 people, as opposed to 16.64 in north Tel Aviv.
The police insisted "thousands of officers are professionally enforcing [regulations] in every area and every sector where violations are uncovered…every hour and every day of the week."
They added that police policy was "uniform" and stressed that the numbers of fines reflected "the amount of violations that officers are seeing on the ground and the nature of the violations." (Josh Breiner)
10:45 A.M. Ultra-Orthodox schools flout COVID restrictions to reopen
Several religious learning institutions, predominantly from the Lithuanian and Sephardic denominations, have reopened this week in defiance of the government's coronavirus restrictions.
Although the slowing rate of infection in many ultra-Orthodox areas has resulted in looser restrictions under Israel's "traffic light” plan, classifying cities according to COVID-19 infection rates, the return to the education system remains prohibited.
These institutions join dozens of more extreme ultra-Orthodox schools which have been operating freely in the last several weeks.
The rate of positive cases among the ultra-Orthodox has dramatically decreased in recent weeks, falling to 18 from 30 percent at the peak of the third wave. (Aaron Rabinowitz)
9:40 A.M. One thousand Russian vaccines on the way to Gaza
One thousand Russian-made Sputnik V coronavirus vaccines are being delivered to Gaza on Wednesday morning from the Palestinian Authority.
The vaccines were donated by Russia, and transferred with the approval of the Palestinian Authority.
The vaccines are currently en route from the Beitunia border crossing in the West Bank to the Kerem Shalom border crossing into Gaza. (Jack Khoury)
8:25 A.M. Half of Israelis over 30 vaccinated
Over 50 percent of Israelis over the age of 30 have received the first dose of their COVID-19 inoculation, the health ministry announced on Wednesday.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein also revealed that 160,000 people were vaccinated on Tuesday.
Israel has now inoculated almost 4.1 million people (roughly 44 percent of the population). Of the overall figure, nearly 2.7 million people (about 29.1 percent of the population) received the second dose of the vaccination. (Haaretz)
10:50 P.M. Tel Aviv municipality does not intend to open emergency storm shelters for its homeless population, fearing COVID outbreak
Fearing a coronavirus outbreak, the Tel Aviv municipality does not intend to open an emergency shelter for its homeless population during the storm expected to take place in the coming days, deviating from its practice over the past four years of opening such shelters during winter storms.
In the absence of these kinds of shelters, homeless people will only be able to reach existing shelters used throughout the year by drug users and those overcoming addictions, known as "Gagonim" (Awinings).
According to data from last year published by the Welfare Ministry, the municipality’s street dwellers (homeless) unit treats at least 1,060 homeless people, and the municipality estimates that every year there is a 50 percent increase of the number of cases opened under its purview.
The ministry’s data also indicates that 40 percent of Israel’s homeless population reside in various south Tel Aviv neighborhoods, with Neve Sha'anan in the lead. Some say actual figures are actually much higher, because the ministry’s data reflects only those who contacted the street dwellers units and received a response. (Bar Peleg)
5:44 P.M. Israel's chief Ashkenazi rabbi removes judge from post after he refused to receive COVID vaccine
This week, Rabbi David Lau, the chief Ashkenazi rabbi of Israel and the president of its rabbinical courts, ordered that a rabbinical court judge scheduled to sit on a panel be replaced for refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
The judge was scheduled to sit on a panel at an IDF base to hear cases of soldiers who are seeking to convert to Judaism. the IDF and officials from the rabbinical courts administration asked that the judge be replaced by a judge who has been vaccinated after they discovered that the judge refuses to get vaccinated.
Rabbi Lau did not object, the question of whether the unvaccinated judge can be barred from sitting on other judicial panels until he is vaccinated is currently being reviewed.
All judges must be vaccinated, Rabbi Lau’s office said on Tuesday, noting that in his opinion, a judge who refuses to get vaccinated should be barred from serving in such a capacity – to the greatest extent that it is legally possible to do so – so that they not endanger the health of court attendees. (Aaron Rabinowitz)
12:27 P.M. Ministries agree on COVID-19 testing plan to keep some schools open
The health and education ministries have agreed on a plan that will allow schools in so-called "bright orange" localities to remain open despite moderate infection rates, as roll-out of the government's "traffic-light plan" for schools continues into its second week, amid criticism from parents and teachers.
This week, the ministries will start conducting regular coronavirus testing at the "bright orange" schools, which will be required to administer tests to at least 60 percent of students and teaching staff on a weekly basis. Schools that do not meet this target for two consecutive weeks will be required to shut their doors if infection rates rise in their area.
Participating schools will be allowed to remain open even if infection rates in the schools rise and the community where they are located becomes "red" or "orange." The ministries are aiming to conduct 10,000 tests a day, the Education Ministry told Haaretz. (Shira Kadari-Ovadia)
10:50 A.M. West Bank vaccine rollout on hold, as Gaza still awaits first shipment
Israel and the Palestinian Authority have traded barbs over Israel's postponement of the transfer of 2,000 vaccines from the West Bank to Gaza on Monday, as the besieged enclave awaits its first doses of the coronavirus inoculation.
The Palestinian Authority finished administering the vaccine to medical teams under its jurisdiction in the West Bank and sought to transfer 2,000 Sputnik V vaccines to the Gaza Strip on Monday, intended for medical personnel in the coastal territory, but that Israel halted the shipment at a West Bank checkpoint.
Palestinian Health Minister Mai Kaila blamed Israel for blocking the supply of vaccines that the PA had allocated to Gaza. “Israel bears full responsibility for this arbitrary move, that contravenes every value and international law,” she said. (Jack Khoury and Reuters)
9:15 A.M. Health Ministry reports rare case of fetus' COVID death
A fetus that contracted COVID-19 has died, the Health Ministry reported, in what is considered the first such case in Israel and one of only a few reported in the world.
The 29-year-old mother experienced mild symptoms for three days, and went to see a doctor after she didn't feel the fetus moving. Health officials say it is "likely" that the fetus died of the virus, after both the mother and the fetus tested positive. (Ido Efrati)
5:58 A.M. Education Ministry wants names of vaccinated teachers, students
The Education Ministry is insisting on obtaining the names and identifying details of teachers and students who have been vaccinated against the coronavirus, but the Health Ministry is blocking transfer of this information out of concern over invasion of medical privacy.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has intervened, asking the Health Ministry to transfer the data. The move was legally sanctioned by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, who said at a meeting of the coronavirus cabinet that the issue does not require new legislation and that there was no legal obstacle to providing the data. (Ido Efrati, Netael Bandel and Shira Kadari-Ovadia)